South Charlotte

Body cameras become a trend with police

Mint Hill police will soon wear body cameras on all shifts. The cameras will be worn on the shirt pockets of their uniforms.
Mint Hill police will soon wear body cameras on all shifts. The cameras will be worn on the shirt pockets of their uniforms.

Police officers in Pineville are outfitted with body cameras to record their encounters with the public and officers in Mint Hill and Matthews will soon follow suit.

Pineville police patrol Lt. Shaun Boyter said his department has used the cameras for about a year, with positive results.

“We’ve taken them to court,” Boyter said. “They’ve been helpful both to get evidence and to show the dangers of our job.”

The Pineville department has 12 body cameras. Six are used for officers on duty, while the other six are charging and downloading videos. Special teams, such as SWAT, also wear them on occasion.

Body camera videos are stored at a server at the station.

Mint Hill officers will soon be following that same procedure.

Thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission, the Mint Hill Police Department recently purchased 22 body cameras, one for each patrol officer.

Procedures are being fine-tuned and officers are undergoing training. Mint Hill police chief Tim Ledford said he expects all cameras to be online by the beginning of 2016. Mint Hill police videos will be stored on an on-site server as well.

The Matthews Police Department is on track to receive 55 body cameras early next year. Matthews Police Chief Rob Hunter said the $50,000 in new equipment is being purchased through a combination of funding including federal seized asset funds, a state grant, and $6,000 in donations from residents of the Polo Club and the Matthews Chamber of Commerce.

Hunter said every patrol officer and school resource officer will be issued a camera, and there will be extras available for investigators and other special teams when needed.

The Matthews department will be relying on their upgraded local server to store the videos using the same procedures they use for their car cameras that have been in place for a number of years.

Hunter said his department is still working out the details, but he expects the cameras to go live by the end of January.

Cameras in all three departments are manually operated, requiring the officers to turn them on and off at the beginning and end of a call. As technology evolves, police said the cameras could be linked to the patrol cars’ emergency systems so that they would turn on automatically when the blue lights are activated.

They’ve been helpful both to get evidence and to show the dangers of our job.

Shaun Boyter, Pineville police patrol lieutenant

Ledford said the cameras will offer some definite advantages to both officers and citizens. But, like all technology, cameras come with concerns as well.

“The cameras are going to be a great asset to us,” Ledford said. “It will take a lot of the ‘he said, she said’ innuendo out of the conversation. Any complaints a citizen has against an officer will be on video as well. The cameras will be a plus to citizens as well as the officers.”

But Ledford said he’s concerned that privacy laws have not kept up with technology. Currently, unless the videos are marked as evidence, they are considered public record, similar to a written police report.

Ledford said he’s concerned about videos of car crashes, domestic assault complaints and possible violation of HIPPA laws if all videos are available to the public.

“The cameras are a great concept, but I don’t think we’ve thought through a lot of the privacy issues,” said Ledford. “The North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police is trying to change the law so that it is not all public record.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: